Saturday, March 7, 2009

Readings: Simone Weil - Part VI

Below is the penultimate installment of Paul West's biographical sketch of Simone Weil from his book, Portable People:

What else can we do, however uneasy or inferior we feel, but admire her passionate, sometimes maladroit devotion to the working class, her intense and unsectarian religious zeal, her capacity for self-denial, her attempt to convert pain into something wholly fruitful, her brilliant disruptive mind and painstakingly trenchant prose, her audacity in teaching the young, her almost peasant simplicity in aphorism, her refusal to defer to evil wherever she found it, her will, her guts, her crabbed truthfulness? We admire, but with a hunch that much of it amounts to a frenetic displacement of womanhood. Some thing crackpot emerges alongside what is her evident genius and her almost pernicious goodness.

Not that we don’t respect the person—whether writer, say, or doctor—who uses the self as raw material. But Simone Weil, ostensibly on the side of life to the extent of justifying all of it, was really on the side of death; and her achievement, such as it is, implies the abandonment of the last, inalienable human privilege: the privilege of saying, “I loathe such and such a part of being human—say the small child with cancer of the clitoris, the child born deformed, the ugly and hardly quellable agony in which many people die, the obvious lack of divine justice—and I will not, much as it might be comfortable to be able to do it, involve myself in schoolmen’s casuistries just to praise a pattern I did not invent.”

She was on the side of death, yes--in the sense that only by submitting to death, in humble obedience to Necessity, do we take part in the ultimate defeat of death by Love. West has trouble throughout with pattern recognition. My admiration is not nearly so conditional as is that of Mr. West.